Rest in peace Sir Tom Finney, perhaps England’s greatest footballer

The football community has been in mourning for the past couple of weeks following the death of Sir Tom Finney, one of the game’s great ambassadors.

Finney was held in high regard all around the world but he chose to play his entire career at him hometown club, Preston North End.

This may have been a mistake. He certainly could have won more medals and earned a lot more money had he moved, but he simply never saw the need, happily remaining at Deepdale.

As a result, Finney was, and indeed remains, a genuine hero in the city, something that was clear for all to see as his funeral cortege weaved its way through the streets yesterday.

I’m proud to say that Finney and my paths crossed once, albeit very fleetingly. I worked as a steward at Deepdale during my time at university in Preston and was one day tasked with manning the entrance to the directors’ suite in the stand that bears his name.

As the game ended, I held the door open for Finney and his late wife to make their exit. No words were spoken, but a nod of acknowledgement from the great man was good enough for me.

Great is a word used all too often to describe footballers, but Finney is certainly one player who deserves to be lauded in this way.

Indeed, it could be suggested that he is the best footballer England has ever produced.

It’s a difficult call to make, as footage of Finney in action is fairly sparse. However, many people who saw him in action, including legends like Sir Stanley Matthews and Bill Shankly, made favourable comparisons between him and the top players of his age.

Finney made a grand total of 473 appearances for Preston, scoring 210 goals, while he represented England 76 times, finding the net on 30 occasions.

These figures are impressive, especially considering that Finney did not play as an out-and-out striker, but he could have achieved even more had circumstances been different.

When his career should have been getting under way, World War Two intervened, with Finney spending three years fighting in north Africa and Italy. He did not make his professional debut until he was 24, the war robbing the Preston Plumber of at least five seasons.

But is he the best English player ever? I’m afraid I’m going to have to remain on the fence because it’s just too difficult to say.

What is certain is that he deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Matthews, Duncan Edwards, Bobby Charlton, Bobby Moore, Kevin Keegan, Paul Gascoigne and Wayne Rooney as one of this country’s great players.

Rest in peace, Sir Tom.

Basingstoke Gazette:

English teams’ results in Europe have been poor – but let’s not panic

It has been a bad couple of weeks for English football teams in European competition, especially the Champions League, but I don’t think there is any need to go overboard just yet.

The defeats suffered by Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United have had people speculating that the Premier League is falling behind the other top leagues in Europe.

I disagree.

While I think it’s fair to argue that we do not currently have the best teams in Europe playing on these shores, I still believe we have the strongest league.

Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich may be a cut above our best clubs at the moment – but they are the exception, rather than the rule, in their domestic leagues, which are, on the whole, much weaker than the Premier League.

The Spanish league is a two-horse race most years. Athletico Madrid are putting up a decent fight this time around but the rest of the league is nowhere near as strong as ours. Just look at the fourth Spanish team in the Champions League, Real Sociedad, who finished bottom of Manchester United’s group and are out of Europe.

In Germany, Munich are currently 19 points clear at the top of the table. The Bundesliga may be the only league other than the Premier League to still have four teams remaining in the Champions League, but they are not all faring that well.

Of course, Bayern look set to knock Arsenal out, while Borussia Dortmund overcame their poor form in domestic competition and look likely to reach the last eight as well.

However, Bayer Leverkusen, who were beaten twice by United in the group stages, went down 4-0 at home to Paris St Germain last week. Schalke fared even worse, losing 6-1 at home to Real Madrid, while they were beaten home and away by Chelsea in the group stages.

Real, Barcelona, Bayern, Athletico Madrid, Dortmund and Paris St Germain all look set to reach the quarter-finals in the coming weeks, but I expect Chelsea to join them and have a feeling United might peg Olympiakos back at Old Trafford. If that is the case then Spain will have three quarter-finalists, with Germany and England boasting two each.

All of a sudden, it would not look so bad.

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